FDIC chair says no concerns about U.S. bank health amid market turmoil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. bank regulator said on Thursday she had no concerns that volatility in the equities and futures markets posed a threat to the banking system, telling Reuters the country’s lenders have plenty of capital to weather further market swings.

FILE PHOTO: Jelena McWilliams, nominee to be chairperson of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Jelena McWilliams also told Reuters that banking regulators had begun a review of the so-called CAMELS rating system used to assess the health of the nation’s banks.

“Frankly, recent market movements have not given us any reason to be concerned,” she said in an interview. “Banks are well capitalized. Actually, they are superbly well capitalized at this point in time.

“Nothing that happened in December gave us concern.”

U.S. stocks posted a loss in 2018 for the first time in a decade, amid fears over a weakening global economy and a trade war between the United States and China, sparking fears the turmoil could spread to other parts of the financial system.

Those jitters have continued into the new year, with stocks falling roughly 2 percent on Thursday following weak manufacturing data and a surprise revenue warning from Apple Inc. AAPL.O.

McWilliams’ comments mark the latest vote of confidence from bank regulators after the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said on Wednesday banks are well positioned to navigate a market downturn.

McWilliams, who took office in June and was appointed by President Donald Trump to review post-crisis rules, has said some new rules can be tailored to help small banks.

On Thursday, she told Reuters regulators have begun a review of the system used to rate the financial health of banks.

She said the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, an interagency group comprising the country’s bank regulators, was reviewing whether agencies are applying the CAMELS rating consistently.

McWilliams said she was worried that any differences could encourage banks to seek out less rigorous regulators.

“You don’t want to have any sort of forum shopping,” she said. “You want to ensure the banks know that they’re going to get the same shot” regardless of the regulator.

Regulators use CAMELS ratings as a measure of capital adequacy, asset quality, management capability, earnings, liquidity and risk sensitivity. The ratings are of critical important to bank management, as poor scores can lead to additional regulatory restrictions. But industry groups have complained the confidential scoring system can be opaque and is in need of an update.

If the interagency group finds inconsistencies in how ratings are applied, the regulators could seek public input on overhauling the process, McWilliams added.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Michelle Price and Andrea Ricci